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Iran seen behind arms seized in Nigeria

by Staff Writers
Lagos, Nigeria (UPI) Nov 5, 2010
There are growing indications that a large shipment of weapons, including 107mm rockets, seized in Nigeria last month had originated in Iran, possibly destined for Palestinian militants in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

The Jerusalem Post says the Tehran regime is seeking to open a new supply route to Gaza through Egypt via West Africa after Israeli forces intercepted Iranian shipments through Sudan in northeastern Africa in January 2009.

Nigerian security agents, apparently tipped off by a Western intelligence service, uncovered the weapons at Lagos port Oct. 26.

They were hidden among construction materials in 13 containers shipped from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, a major Revolutionary Guards base.

"If Iran is using Nigeria as a port, it would also entail a major logistical operation to facilitate the transfer of the arms by land from Nigeria, Chad, Sudan and then via Egypt," the Post said.

On Dec. 26, 2009, a Georgia-registered Ilyushin Il-76 cargo aircraft carrying 35 tons of arms, which global arms monitors say was bound for Iran, was seized at Bangkok's Don Muang International Airport.

The freighter's cargo included rocket-propelled grenades, two mobile multiple rocket launchers capable of firing broadsides of 240mm rockets and components for surface-to-air missiles.

Mystery still surrounds the flight of the Ilyushin, which began in North Korea and ended at a refueling stop in the Thai capital, but the flight manifest listed Mehrabad Airport outside Tehran as the cargo's destination. Mehrabad includes a military air base.

The seizure at Bangkok uncovered a paper trail of documentation through a web of phony companies and fake addresses from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, to New Zealand and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

The emirates, particularly freewheeling Dubai, is a hotbed of intrigue through which the Iranians smuggle arms and other goods subject to U.N. and U.S. sanctions.

On Jan. 19, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a Hamas chieftain who was the group's top arms procurer, was assassinated in a Dubai hotel where he was believed to be setting up a weapons deal with Iran.

Dubai police blamed Israel's intelligence service, the Mossad, for the killing.

The weapons found in Lagos, Bangkok and aboard several cargo ships intercepted over the last two years aren't the type of weapons Iran's military forces would need. Western intelligence says it's more likely these confiscated shipments were destined for Iran's militant proxies around the Middle East, particularly Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

Indeed, there has been a marked increase in Iranian arms supplies to these organizations, much of it allegedly through Syria, to arm them to attack Israel if the Jewish state launches threatened military strikes against Iran's nuclear infrastructure.

On Jan. 29, 2009, a US naval task force in the Gulf of Aden intercepted a Russian cargo vessel, the Monchegorsk, registered in Cyprus. It had been chartered by Iran's state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line.

It cargo included containers full of artillery charges, high-explosive propellant for anti-tank weapons and items related to 125mm armor-piercing guns that were destined for Syria, supposedly for delivery to Hezbollah.

In September 2008, the U.S. Treasury Department accused IRISL of illegal arms trafficking, alleging it "falsifies documents and uses deceptive schemes to shroud its involvement in illicit commerce."

As events unfolded, it became clear that IRISL plays a prominent role in Tehran's clandestine operation to supply weapons to its allies.

The Monchegorsk was one of five ships caught carrying large consignments of weapons that Western intelligence believes were destined for Iran's allies.

In July, the French-owned freighter ANL Australia was seized in the United Arab Emirates. It was bound for Iran with containers of North Korean small arms, rocket components, 2,030 detonators for 122mm rockets -- the type used by Hezbollah -- and enough explosive powder to arm thousands of short-range rockets. It was all listed as oil drilling equipment.

In early October, the U.S. Navy, tipped off by Israeli intelligence, intercepted the German-registered Hansa India in the Gulf of Suez carrying seven containers filled with AK-47 ammunition.

On Nov. 4, 2009, the Israeli navy intercepted the German-owned freighter Francop off Cyprus carrying 300 tons of arms -- including 3,000 Katyusha rockets and 9,000 mortar shells -- bound for Syria, presumably for delivery to Hezbollah.

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